What I learned from infiltrating a Democratic campaign



How do I begin?  I spend all my time working toward the emergence of a socialist party, consciously as an alternative to the Democrats, and then I go and campaign for a Democrat.  What the hell!

If you’ll allow me some benefit of the doubt, I actually did this to learn campaign technique so to carry that knowledge over into socialist campaigns which will someday happen.  People have an extreme anxiety about electoral tactics simply because they have zero familiarity with it.  And then of course, since I hope to be part of something which does eventually run socialist candidates, it’s good to know what you’re doing, and have the knowledge to spread to others.  This helps overcome the crisis of confidence.  So it was part reconnaissance, part Sasha Baron Cohen.

First, I have to relate the hilarious shit which occurred on the campaign.  Then I will go into the specific things I learned from the campaign.  Finally I will talk more generally about what I have learned about campaigns in general, from various sources.




I’d been toying with the sinister idea to infiltrate a Democrat campaign and learn their trade for some time.  I was almost at the point when I was going to look up my local candidate and call him myself when, lo and behold, as I was walking from my gym to the adjacent grocery store for a post-workout munchies granola bar, THERE HE IS.  As in, the candidate.  Or really as in, an incumbent, a current state senator.  In front of my grocery store, near my gym, shaking hands and kissing babies.  My fate was sealed.  We spoke.  I volunteered.  I received the ominous business card, for his campaign office.  I called the portentous number.

I go into the office for a first time, just to feel it out and learn the ropes.  It’s a small shitty rental space.  They ask my political background, not really to screen me, but just to know what I’m familiar with.  I leave out the Leninism thing, though it’s fortunate that the Leninist practice of working in single-issue campaigns gives you this long history of activist involvement which you could just pass off as being an active liberal if you don’t mention that you’re in those movements to persuade people of revolution.  I reassure them that, unlike most political noobs, I do not hinge my entire emotional outlook on how every single interaction goes.  I understand that, like grassroots organizing campaigns, many people just won’t have time for you, and you just move on to the next one.  They tell me it’s good that I understand this, because the usual successful contact rate for both phone calls and doorknocking is only 20%.

I ask them a million questions and visibly take notes in a notebook.  I often worried they thought I was a Republican infiltrator…I lazily told them that I was just a leftie activist who realized I should get involved in campaigns and knew nothing about them and wanted to learn all about them.  They didn’t even seem to care.  One of the more poli-sci oriented ones was even happy to have someone to talk to about such nuts-and-bolts technicality.  Did you know that if you put your iPhone on silent mode, no one can tell whether you’re Facebooking or taking photographs of sensitive documents?  I love technology.

So these poor campaigner souls, who were these people?  Where were these people from?  Basically poli-sci majors, some from the locality, some transplanted from the outside to work this job then get back to whatever major city or God-forsaken corner of America.  Was the place well-attended?  Not most of the time.  Toward last two weeks it definitely picked up but before that it was seriously sparse.  I ask how many people I’ll be working with.  “Our volunteer teams are sometimes two or three people.”  (Funny, at the time he said this, there were only three people in the office including myself.)  Ultimately the kid I worked with the most revealed he was working roughly 60-hour weeks for about $10/hour and sums it up by warning me, “don’t work in campaigns.”

What about the volunteers?  Local friends of the candidate, plus some low-income people trying to get extra work by doorknocking.  A pair of black women I worked with told me that the doorknocking ($11/hour) actually paid better than their regular jobs, which were near minimum wage.

One day they just dropped me off with a folder full of papers with addresses and Google maps in a neighborhood, basically implying, “figure it out for yourself.”  It took me a while but after some time I realized it pretty much just like playing World of Warcraft, except in the rain, on foot…for the Democrats.  I had to go to the bathroom but fortunately it was an area which had a lot of construction and various unattended, unlocked port-a-potties served me well.

I met some interestingly uninteresting people.  It’s like the database of doors to knock on was specifically designed to direct me towards old people – which I wouldn’t have minded, except they were old people with absolutely no personalities.

Sometimes I was just reminding people, “Hey you said you were a supporter, you still voting for him?  PS here’s your nearest polling station” but then some townie would say “Ohhh, I know that guy!  I love him!  He’s my dentist!” and want to hang on me for the next twenty minutes when I had more doors to knock.  If these people wanted to talk about the economy or their good old days of protesting in the sixties it would have been one thing, but no.  Sometimes I would just get some snippety person who would refuse to answer me; “I don’t like polls.”  Okay, well I don’t like you.  And then finally there were the unapproachable properties – do I open the gate to get to the front door?  Does this house even have a front door?  And of course the “Beware of Dog” signs which the campaign had instructed me to mark down in my paperwork and bypass.

Besides working on the Democratic campaign I also worked as a poll worker ie a vote counter.  On election day the Republican candidate came into the polls first thing in the morning right when they opened.  She dragged her kids with her.  Somehow I of all people got roped into being the official iPhone picture-taker to forward this sickening photo-op to the local press.  Her daughter literally said, in the yet-quiet building for everyone to hear, “I really do not want to be here.”  I don’t think anything could have better made my day.



Then there was the crime lord.  Oh yes, friends and comrades, while doorknocking I met a crime lord.  He said he was a big supporter of the team I was campaigning for – specifically, the notoriously corrupt state assemblyman who did in fact end up losing the race.  This guy talked with me for a long time, and horrifically as he kept talking, his story seemed more and more realistic.  He said he oversaw providing a certain service in certain hotels in a certain seedy community near me.  He informed me of rather personal reasons why he supported the team I was working with, which he proved in front of me.  Because I want to keep my kneecaps and not be the epicenter of a scandal, I’m not going into details but let’s just say he had the look – outlandish clothing with all these Buddha necklaces and gold chains and other accoutrements, a personal chauffeur in a nice car, etc.  He looked and acted like the crime lord Kenneth Chung from The Hangover except he was white.

But that’s not the scandal, not to me.  You know what was most damning of all about my experience on the campaign trail?  The incredible lack of politics.  I met one guy who turned out to be a union official who had been campaigning for the state’s minimum wage increase.  We traded contact info.  That was it.  With everyone else it was just “Are you voting for my candidate?”  “Oh yeah he’s a good guy.”  “Maybe I don’t know.”  “This is your nearest polling station.”  “Thanks for stopping by.”  “Have a nice day.”  There was virtually no political discussion during my phase of the campaign, the reasons for which I will explain in the next section, but which still seemed completely ridiculous and disproportionate.  If you can’t have politics during campaign season, when can you have it?  There were a million times I could have started such conversations, if I wasn’t working on an unrelated campaign.  I hope that in the future that’s what a socialist party does: actually brings politics into politics.  But with the Democrats, it so happened that I never had to lie, because I was never asked to.  I never had to make an argument I didn’t believe in, because the campaign didn’t believe in anything.  It was a Big Data turnout-harassment machine, plain and simple, lacking any political soul whatsoever.




One of the first days I worked on the campaign, I was given a paper list of people to call on a burner phone (apparently used also by political campaigns, not just drug dealers).


The list looked like this, except I cut off the left hand side which had a name and an address in each one of those rows because that could be some legal confidentiality issue.

The different boxes with acronyms meant things like “Not Home” (NH), “Wrong Number” (WN), and other things I can’t remember but which were much less used.  The process was rather mechanical; f I got a family member I was not supposed to convince them to vote for my guy.  I was instead supposed to insist on asking for the specific person on the list, and if they weren’t home, say thank you and hang up.  If they were there, I was supposed to ask their voting likeliness for each name on the list.  Rather than say “1 through 5, with 1 being unlikely and 5 being very likely” I just asked them yes or no and made a subjective judgment call on the degree.  If they were strong supporters I was supposed to ask them to volunteer or put a yard sign on their lawn.

Eventually I was shown that, once someone is no longer a noob, they can use a “predictive” or automated dialing system, which does the dialing for you, and just calls numbers til you get a live person.  They said it is telemarketing software called Shoutpoint.

The educational highlight of the whole reconnaissance mission, besides working the phones, was the doorknocking.  I got to know what happens, as described above.  But I also got to know their system.

They handed me sheets like the first ones, with names and addresses and questionairre options, except according to street.  And they handed me Google maps like the ones below, except they used some program (which despite my persistent queries no one could identify, damn it) to draw many different dots on the same Google map, of all their target houses.

So I would follow my map, follow the dots, and use street signs to figure out where I was, and then the alphabetically-ordered pages sorted by street name would have the paperwork for each target individual.  Some days I was dropped off on my own in a place with targets in easy walking distance of each other.  Some days I was teamed up with others, and we’d drive around and handle things together.  Some days I drove around by myself.  The shifts were 5 hours; I did it on weekends.


On a more serious note, one thing I really did encounter was that my candidate had a lot of support simply by being a community presence.  Whenever there was some Boy Scout event or 4H or whatever, he would be there chatting with people.  He paid close attention to state-and-local happenings.  Also he was a dentist which gave him a high degree of community visibility.  While any socialist should obviously be much more directly political than that, such things do pay off.  You could view it as using apolitical methods to “cheat” and bypass the need to directly convince people of socialism.  Or, you could view it in the exact reverse, that you are using your own character as a method for legitimizing socialism in the eyes of the community.  If they look at you and think “hey they’re a good person, they’re a neighbor,” they may vote for you just for that, but they will also take more seriously any ideas you put forward.

Finally I noticed I was not officially an employee of the campaign, which I had heard of elsewhere.  For campaign finance law purposes, campaign staff are not paid through the campaign officially.  I did receive a small amount of money for doorknocking, and my checks did not come from the candidate’s campaign but from this group that was funneling essentially Democratic Party money through non-Democrat channels.  So there it is: I was not in any official capacity as a Democratic Party staff member.  Instead my paychecks indicated I was a functionary of the faceless, shadowy Ardleigh Group Limited Liability Corporaton.





The first step to any election campaign is district math.  Without this, you are truly lost at sea.  Fortunately it’s pretty easy, but it can give you a brutal reality check.  District math is when you figure out the actual number of people you would need to win.  Traditionally, you figure out the number of people with a voting history in your relevant area, and shoot for 50% of them.  Since commies like us might throw the race, we might be shooting for 33%.  Or if you know you can’t win but are running to make an impression, you might set a quantitative goal of 20% or something, to show that you didn’t win this time but you are serious.

Now notice I said traditionally you get this percentage out of the number of people in your area with a voting history.  This raises a few questions: how do you find this information?  Fortunately Wikipedia and other free Internet sources often carry this precise information on every possible electoral zone.  You can also ask your local board of elections for the Orwellian “voter file,” which gives your locality’s entire voting history, sometimes even indicating people’s addresses and which way they voted, no kidding.  It exists precisely for electoral campaign purposes, for doorknocking and mailing and phonecalling, so you’d be using it for the right reasons.  In fact if you use it to doorknock for charity or business, you will face fines.

The second question is – are you going to focus on people with voting histories?  Or not?  The mainstream parties do that, but maybe we shouldn’t.  Maybe we can reach people who avoid voting because they feel the two parties don’t represent them.  However this would raise some problems for us.  The parties use the voting-history-only method as a way to save crucial resources.  Often as much of 60% of a district doesn’t vote, so if we sought the disaffected, the mainstream parties would be knocking on as little as 40% (or even 20%) of the doors in a district.  We would have to knock on all 100% of them.  But we might find it to be worth it.  Maybe we could start way earlier than the normal campaign season.

Also know that there are three phases of contacting people, which would justify starting early: voter ID, persuasion, and get-out-the-vote (GOTV).  In the first phase, voter ID, you knock on every door known to man (or just the ones with voting histories) and figure out if they’re with you, against you, or borderline.  (You also learn if they just want everyone to fuck off and won’t talk to you – make sure you mark that down in your paperwork too.  Every asshole you know to avoid saves you time and resources.) Voter ID can often be done over phone, often even by independent companies if you’ve got the money.  So after voter ID, you’ve categorized people and know how to approach them in the future.  If people are on board with you, they become targets during Phase 3, Get Out the Vote (GOTV).  You can also hit them up earlier for volunteer time and donations (which you will need).  If people are borderline, you target them during Phase 2, persuasion.  Persuasion is one of the most actually political parts of the campaign.  This is where people need to be trained in talking points or whatever, though in the case of socialists it would probably be the moment of relief when politicos are actually allowed to be political.  Of course the moment of attempting to recruit people who lean supportive into actually doing something or donating is also a part which might require a political argument.  The final phase, GOTV, is really just about giving people reminders.  You find supportive people and ask them to actually go vote.  You inform them of their nearest polling station.  You offer to give them mail-in vote forms.  You ask them how they will get to their polling station, partially to provide transit for those lacking, but mainly to make people visualize the process of going to vote, a mind trick which makes them much more likely to actually go do it.

Every voter you are targeting in your district math should get something like 7 instances of contact: 2 phone calls, 2 doorknocks, 2 pieces of campaign mail, and 1 of whatever.  We socialists might involve more things like street presence, like the Sawant campaign’s “stand-outs,” or rallies and political-educational meetings.  Really any of the usual leftist political events – lectures, protests, whatever – could be seamlessly synthesized with an electoral campaign by just making an announcement or asking for donations or volunteers.  These, however, are a supplement and not a substitute for the tremendous task of individualized contact toward everyone in your district.

Don’t bother with getting TV or radio.  You can’t afford it and it actually doesn’t accomplish what you would think.  People respond best to enthusiastic volunteers, which plays in our favor since the two-party system lacks enthusiastic volunteers while having plenty of money to run attack ads.  If you have money to burn, pay your staff and doorknockers or get more campaign mail.

Then there are the unique problems of New York City.  There is no way to knock on doors, because everyone lives in skyscrapers with locked front doors, or front security desks.  That’s a problem because doorknocking is the typical entry-point for grassroots campaigns who have lots of volunteer enthusiasm but no money.  But I’ll probably write about that in some other article.

Note that these are the basics.  The more you can afford, the more sophisticated you can get with modeling people’s data and really zoning in on the right people.  Until then, lean hard on your one advantage of being a rabble-rousing socialist with lots of volunteer power.

my top blog posts (imo)

For anyone who gets directed to my site by random stuff, my top political project is CUSP.  Note that the opinions in this blog are just my own, not CUSP’s collectively — especially if I was criticizing something.  CUSP is an actual group of people, not just a site where I post opinions as if I’m an organization.  (I often don’t even do the postings anymore.)

The posts:

the insanity of competing socialists

How will a large socialist party happen?

Constructively resolving the emerging socialist hostility

Diplomacy and bio-psychological infrastructure (humans)

Physically evict the sectarians

my Left Forum 2013 misadventure

Occupy could have endured and expanded

briefly, the phases of a revolution

this historical moment is critical

Area-Based Unionism in the Viral Age

resurrecting uniforms, marching, coordination in the Left

leftist organization and the growth curve

The Dark Side

The Force

Why spirituality often fails

Too much culture

ISO faction: keep trying, but you’re doing it wrong

In reference to this.

You know why ISO internal bulletins suck?  Because they’re unnecessarily long, grandiose, and infected with jargon, and you have to dig through all that to figure out what they’re even saying.  Unfortunately that’s also kind of how I felt when I was reading through the ISO Renewal Faction’s various essays (which multiple people immediately showed me in succession; apparently I’m becoming a minor beacon to the “ex-ISO but still actually doing shit” crowd).

I’ll save everyone the pain of repeating the mistake of meandering, and get straight to my points: I think the Renewal Faction should

  1. drop the weird neoliberalism analysis, not as individuals, but as a factional point of unity
  2. place democracy front and center, above not below the neoliberalism analysis
  3. stand for acknowledgment of new opportunities which even the ISO mainstream is not seizing, quite the opposite of the Renewal Faction’s current role as the voice of neoliberal pessimism
  4. explore and consider advocating Philly Socialists’ use of the socialization-based theory and practice of recruitment and retention, which is having amazing success
  5. consider taking up the cause of inter-tendency electoral collaboration


Neoliberalism?  Wha?  Also DEMOCRACY

Some weird perspective about neoliberalism – as a requirement for factional membership?? – honestly makes the Renewal Faction sound like the embryo of a new sect.  It repeats the Trotskyist mistake of thinking that perspective is everything.

The way the Renewal Faction stakes so much of its identity on this weird neoliberalism perspective honestly reminds me of how people in the Spanish Civil War focused too much on defending the bourgeois republic and fighting fascism.  Well, no one cares about those things.  Because they’re abstract!  You may score some points among the hyper-abstract crowd (ie not me) but it sure as shit will not move passions in the way necessary to win a faction fight.

Democracy, however, is a real tangible issue that many ISOers possess suspicions and tension about, articulated and unarticulated.  Isn’t the real issue not necessarily this or that perspective, but the fact that to even articulate a unique, original, different or alternate perspective within the ISO places you on a trajectory toward being socially ostracized and, if you persist, bureaucratically removed?  And also holy shit, there is absolutely no effective membership control over the paid staff, the leadership operates as a faction which campaigns within the organization for its version of the “right” position, perspectives are formed for us and not by us, etc. etc.

Really, I find the problem with the ISO (and every other group) to be that they demand you to have far too narrow, unified a perspective to the point of really spurning any kind of free-flowing thought.  The fact that the Renewal Faction is based on another such extremely specific perspective, as a condition of membership, makes me suspect that it has really no more hope of fixing the ISO than the rest of the ISO does.


Ambition and opportunities, not pessimism

I respect the Renewal Faction’s right to their differing perspective, even if I think making it a point of unity is a mistake.  However, I should also admit I just think that perspective is wrong.  If the perspective about neoliberalism is pointing toward pessimism and a future lack of struggles, it is completely out of touch with the recent evolution of consciousness in the USA.  Obviously there was Occupy, and there is also the rise of limited but awesome fights in the private sector around low-wage workers.  In November 2012, a Gallup poll found that 39% of the USA thinks socialism is a good thing.  That same year, “socialism” and “capitalism” were the most-looked-up words in the dictionary.  Now we have the election of Kshama Sawant, which is giving us merely a tiny taste of what possibilities exist for us to fill the post-Occupy void of massive Left sympathy but no Left organization.

The rise of the web site The North Star was due to its original mover’s focus on (1) how the ISO was not democratic enough (2) how the Left had opportunities for unification, expanded size, and expanded struggles which the ISO (and everyone else) was not acknowledging.  Everyone has post-Occupy depression, without admitting that they do.  They are all practicing a certain pessimism of expectations, without keeping in mind that Occupy showed tremendous possibilities, showed the true face of people’s thoughts.  Occupy disintegrated, but not out of a lack of popular sympathy – it disintegrated for being poorly organized.  The public mass sympathy is still there.  Use it!  (Or lose it?…)


The Philly Socialists’ model

People are not robots, their involvement in groups is based just as much on the deep, transformative power of human relationships as it is articulated ideas.  I’ve written about this at length elsewhere so I will link here and here and include this picture:



Inter-tendency electoral collaboration

Something is definitely changing on the socialist Left.  There is less hostility between the serious groups.  Previously people used to lump all other groups in with the crazy hostile sectarians, but now people are distinguishing that there are some groups which are “maybe wrong about a few things but at least sane and, well, they’re socialists” and then yes the crazy hostile sectarians do unfortunately still exist.

There are many unaffiliated socialists, people sick of the crap of both the hair-splitting divisions and the group bureaucracies, who are beginning to see the narrow identities of each group as something which isn’t simply a problem in itself, but which also empowers the groups’ bureaucratic-centralist leaderships.

Since the Sawant incident, people are talking about it everywhere.  It’s really hard to ignore.  It’s an issue which is so powerful that it has already forced the ISO to budge and acknowledge another group’s success, even after the ISO was rather rudely smacked by that very group!

The point is, unity is bigger than anyone can control.  It has a power of its own, which marches hand-in-hand with the right of ordinary participants to form their own perspectives.  It’s a wave of support which does not need to be generated because it is already happening.  And it is already being entertained and even welcomed by many rank-and-file ISOers, quite of their own volition and independently of the leadership.  The fact that the Renewal Faction does not have an intuitive sense of this extremely radical, independent trend makes me squint and blink and wonder whether they really have the collective-subconscious-awareness necessary to be an Opposition.  I find myself wondering if they and I even have anything in common at all.  Maybe not.  Maybe today we all learned something, but not what we hoped.  Or maybe if they’ve come this far, they can learn and adapt.


The ISO is a cool group in that, despite the fact that I have some serious beefs with it (see entire above essay), it may actually just be able to transform into something greater than it currently is.  The democracy issue has been stewing for a long time, so I am glad a faction has finally emerged, but for that faction to make meaningful change or even achieve any following at all, it will probably have to change its style.


My redemption lies in your demise

So there’s this Marx quote from the Communist Manifesto, “we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

And there’s this other Marx quote from Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, more extended,

The individual is the social being. His manifestations of life – even if they may not appear in the direct form of communalmanifestations of life carried out in association with others – are therefore an expression and confirmation of social life. Man’s individual and species-life are not different, however much – and this is inevitable – the mode of existence of the individual is a more particular or more general mode of the life of the species, or the life of the species is a more particular or more general individual life.

In his consciousness of species man confirms his real social life and simply repeats his real existence in thought, just as conversely the being of the species confirms itself in species consciousness and exists for itself in its generality as a thinking being.

Man, much as he may therefore be a particular individual (and it is precisely his particularity which makes him an individual, and a real individual social being), is just as much the totality – the ideal totality – the subjective existence of imagined and experienced society for itself; just as he exists also in the real world both as awareness and real enjoyment of social existence, and as a totality of human manifestation of life.

That’s all a lovelier, more thorough way of saying “we’re all interconnected,” and “each one of us is a stand-in for all of us,” also taking a detour through the interesting idea that because consciousness has infinite potential, each individual consciousness encompasses everything (including all humanity) and is therefore social in nature (as well as, I suppose, infinite).


The utopian scenario which we all want to reach is the situation described in the first line.  But unlike the explorations in the Manuscripts, Marx was not giving some sociological description of how everything is interconnected in the present.  The full quote is, “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

Meaning that this is a scenario we have not reached yet.

So there is the idea of substantiation-of-self through substantiation-of-other.  Simply, what’s good for any of us is good for all of us, and what’s good for all of us is good for any of us.  It’s a situation of pure mutual-reinforcement.  Strength or wellbeing of one individual emanates out to others, and cycles back and returns in kind.

What divides the hippies from the Bolshevik soldiers is some people make the mistake of believing the mutual-reinforcement scenario is automatically true already.  They think it is true in any situation.  What they don’t realize is how much they have in common with free-market ideology: what’s good for business must be good for everyone.  No – charity is nice but “gift economics” will not cause some kind of spiral of positive feedback loop until everyone holds hands and sings Kumba Ya.

Maybe positive vibes can pass from person to person, but individual bank accounts have firmer boundaries.  We have to change the material situation of ownership.  We have to seize the great stockpiles of wealth, and employees must take ownership and control of the workplace.  Only after being guaranteed a fair stake in society can people truly act as if they have a place at the table.  Then harmony can begin.  (And yes, as Babeuf said, “The organization of real equality will not at first please everyone.”)

We need to develop what Gramsci called a “spirit of scission.”  This means an ability to discern friend from foe, and to form a collective revolutionary identity which also forms its identity out of distinction from, even antagonism against the existing order of things, the wealthy, the interlocking set of institutions which are referred to in shorthand as “the system,” and certain facets of “respectability.”

So against the dream state we hope for, of substantiation-of-self through substantiation-of-other, we currently suffer the opposite: an exploitative system involving substantiation-of-self through degradation-of-other, with possibilities of class struggle involving the same exact thing.

Our situations are hard-wired for standoff.  This is zero/sum.  There can be no compromise, no synthesis.  We are incompatible, it is irreconcilable.  Only one can win.

Actually, it’s worse than that.


What is this mutual antagonism wasn’t just about workers vs. bosses, but All against All?  What if you knew that, opposed it in principle — but had to participate in it anyway?

You may have noticed that capitalism is competitive (and other understatements).  Often people think in terms of competing businesses, but also individual employees working hard to…apparently be rewarded for it?  How?  Through a raise?  Yeah, those happen anymore.  How about a promotion?  Well, if the promotion isn’t already handed to someone’s cousin or the likewise through the good old boy’s network, it will probably go to the person with the best management skills, which does not necessarily mean the hardest worker.

So in precisely which settings hard work is actually rewarded, I couldn’t tell you, but that doesn’t have to be the definition of “competitive.”  Competition only means opposing sides, not that the conflict is fair, nor that it produces any value whatsoever.  It could mean those things, but it could also mean just a turf war.

Well, this is what we all live in.  We all live in a competition over clients and customers, or over market share, or for most of us, over jobs – and that often becomes the most ugly, racial sort of competition.  This is besides the even more immediate, day-to-day forms of competition like traffic.

So this situation of substantiation-of-self through degradation-of-other, it’s not just about class struggle.  It’s everyday life for every inhabitant of capitalism.  Most socialists could stomach it if it was simply Us vs the Rich Bastards.  They are bastards!  We can take them down and not feel bad.  We can even do it humanely; all we want is their money, not their lives.

But the amount of vicious career focus which is required to survive in capitalism without experiencing an overabundance of suffering is pretty tremendous.  We leftist kids who just sort of went to college, studied the humanities, didn’t have any thought of what to do job-wise, figured we’d leave reality for after graduation – reality is here.  And that silly shit just won’t cut it anymore.

Sell out.  Sell out hard.

Many socialist groups, being inspired by Marxist materialism, claim to avoid “moralism,” or relying on guilt and obligation to motivate people to do things.  They say that material self-interest will be the driving force which motivates working people to revolt, and to participate in the intermediate stages between now and revolt, like organization.  Well, this is what they say.  If socialist organizing was really about material self-interest, I think I should have gotten paid for it by now.  I suppose it could be construed as a very long-term sort of material self-interest.  But in practice many organizers rely hard on moralism.  “It’s the right thing to do.”

But material self-interest is something I do believe in.

What if you embraced the capitalist-competitive mindset in your personal life, while retaining socialist political goals?  Really this would not be too different from existing socialist groups who compete like firms over potential recruits.  But this may be the key, the synthesis, the mastery over Light and Dark.


What does liberation mean within capitalism?

Not much.  It is hardly possible at all.

And yet, I find that the more I commit to my own individual liberation – whether it be with and through others, or over and at the expense of others – the more I find myself with the willpower to do all sorts of things, including the namby-pamby drum circle socialism stuff.  (Fucking drum circles.)

Let’s not go overboard though – there are degrees of freedom.  Someone who gets vacation time is more free than someone who doesn’t, perhaps.  Someone with more resources has greater freedom to influence the direction of society (freedom and power are very interconnected).  And someone who gets paid a decent salary is definitely much, much more free than someone who has to worry about making even small purchases, speaking from experience.  Like Bill Hicks said, if you think you’re free, try going somewhere without money.

The horrifying thing is that a great many radicals probably are intelligent enough to figure out how to game the system to the point of making a decent amount of money.  They don’t want to admit this because it would confuse their notion that all people’s economic problems are the system’s fault.  That’s generally true, to be sure.  But the truth is, a lot of these kids could definitely be doing way better if they were studying marketable skills instead of consuming the never-ending stream of Leftist reading obligations so they can be super-impressive to their comrades.

The world is no longer kill or be killed, but it is enslave or be enslaved.  Anyone who believes in a middle doesn’t know how “thinking” works.

Enslave or be enslaved.  There is no right choice.

You can be paralyzed by this, as I was for years, trapped as I was under the Christianizing spell of socialist moralism.  You can tell yourself that your continued suffering accomplishes something – that it “keeps you close to the class” or something, as if more than .5% of the population have an opportunity to use their workplace as an organizing space.

You can tell yourself that remaining a slave makes you morally clean.

And no, this isn’t just about “starting a business” or some idiotic shit.  If you know how to do that, good for you.  But what if you ended up in management?  Or worse – what if you were the focused type of person whom someone would even consider for that role?  Worse still – what if you aggressively jumped from job to job, seeking greater and greater compensation?  What if you actually used all your knowledge of Marxist economics to invest?  What if these activities actually consumed a fraction of your life?  What if you exercised ambition?  Or even greed?

Ultimately the choice is still thus: remain a slave, morally clean but handing your labor to someone else who doesn’t deserve it, or have slaves hand their labor to you.  Any situation in capitalism in which you are not an exploiter probably means you are essentially still a glorified employee (slave).

You may think that to cross that line in practice would be crossing a line in your heart.  Do not fool yourself.  There are no more lines to cross because we’ve already crossed them all.  We are as morally malleable as clay.  We have made compromise after compromise from our very birth.  Our daily existence requires compliance when we should be bursting, indifference when we should condemn, silence when we should scream.  Surprise: the title of the show “The Walking Dead” isn’t about the zombies, it’s about the people.  Heed the words of Chow.

Only those with the strong individual will of a selfish person shall be self-reliant enough contribute to any collective efforts effectively, and especially to self-originate an organic, objective assessment of where things are going and what is to be done, instead of just parroting what they’ve been told to think while the whole contraption may very well be grinding to a standstill.

But ultimately my beliefs are beyond justice.  No apologies and no excuses.  I am what I am.

“Only those hardened by this ineluctable truth can survive…only those of you who are willing to turn upon one another and profit by the misfortune of others.”…

“I have been sent to overturn your most cherished beliefs in a bright future, and to help you wage war on good intentions and the deception of pure ideas; to teach you how to accept the fact that even in the midst of this seemingly blessed era, this wink of the eye in sentient history, our baser instincts hold sway over us.”

“What this reordered galaxy will need is beings who are fearless to be arrogant, self-serving, and driven to survive at all costs.  Here, under my guidance, you will learn to let go of your old selves and find the strength to recast yourself…through actions you might never have believed yourselves possible of performing.”

“Look, each of you, to the ones to your left and right, and to those in front and behind…and think of them as stepping-stones to your eventual escalation.”

From James Luceno’s “Darth Plagueis”